Yesterday, over 550 concerned citizens from the Tennessee Valley and a coalition of conservation groups—including Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy—submitted comments on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) draft environmental assessment for units 1 and 4 at the Shawnee coal plant in West Paducah, Kentucky. The utility has proposed spending up to $225 million to retrofit the units and keep them in operation instead of retiring them by 2018. Under the terms of a major settlement with environmental groups, states and the EPA, TVA is required to make a decision on the fate of the two units by December 31, 2014, and comments due yesterday were submitted as part of that process.
The groups identified several flaws with TVA’s draft environmental assessment. First, TVA failed to justify the need for the retrofit project. According to the utility, units 1 and 4 are not needed for reliability purposes, and could be retired “without having to build or obtain replacement capacity to maintain reliable service” in the region. Second, the draft does not account for the economic benefits of retiring the 60 year-old units. It could take decades to recover the hundreds of millions of dollars it would cost to retrofit the units—which, given their advanced age, is an unreasonable timeframe to expect the units to remain in operation. Third, the draft grossly understates the environmental impacts resulting from the continued operation of the two units. Finally, the document fails to even consider the option of replacing the units with clean energy resources or market purchases.
Statement from Jonathan Levenshus, Tennessee Representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign
“Responsibly retiring these 60 year-old coal burners is far less costly than making major new investments in aging infrastructure—especially when TVA's own analysis says they are not even needed for reliability in the area. TVA has better investment options, including wind power, solar energy and energy efficiency, to pick from. They can protect our health and our pocketbooks by letting these expensive, dirty and unnecessary units retire."
Statement from Dr. Stephen A. Smith, Executive Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
"If you were to move beyond the difficult politics of Kentucky and focus on the TVA system as a whole, we believe retiring these two units will provide the best benefits for the economy, the environment and human health and urge the TVA board to support retirement. The economics of continuing to invest in 60 year old coal plants are less than compelling."
Statement from Abel Russ, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project
“The draft environmental assessment doesn’t even make even a superficial assessment of groundwater pollution, and this is at one of TVA’s most contaminated sites. Propping up Units 1 and 4 will make a bad problem worse, and it will deprive Kentucky citizens of a precious natural resource—clean water—for decades to come."
Statement from Mary Whittle, Earthjustice’s lead counsel on this issue
“Instead of wastefully sinking over $200 million of its customers’ hard-earned money into polluting coal burners on their last legs, TVA should invest this money into clean energy sources like wind, solar and energy efficiency that would provide the energy it needs while protecting the health of the families in West Paducah and the surrounding communities."